Letter Ruling In the matter of George Prunier - Public Enforcement Letter
Dear Mr. Prunier:
As you know, the State Ethics Commission has conducted a preliminary inquiry regarding an allegation that you as a Grafton Selectman participated in a matter in which you had a financial interest. More specifically, the inquiry involved your participation in the deliberation and negotiations for the town's purchase of a landfill site directly across from your own residence. The results of our investigation, which are discussed below, indicate that you appear to have violated the conflict of interest law. However, in view of certain mitigating circumstances and action you have agreed to take, also discussed below, the Commission has determined that an adjudicatory proceeding is not warranted.
Rather, the Commission concluded that the public interest would be better served by disclosing the facts revealed by our investigation and explaining the application of the law to such facts, trusting that this advice will ensure your future understanding of, and compliance with, the conflict of interest law. By agreeing to this public letter as a final resolution of this matter, the Commission and you are agreeing that there will be no formal action against you and that you have chosen not to exercise your right to a hearing before the Commission.
I. The Facts
1. You serve as a selectman in the Town of Grafton and have since 1984.
2. You live on Millbury Road in Grafton, on property you purchased in 1981. Since that time you have made substantial improvements to that property, including additions to your residence, construction of a garage and your place of business, plus extensive improvements such as landscaping.
3. On Millbury Road, across from your residence, is a solid waste sanitary landfill owned by the Adams Corporation. At the time you purchased the property you were aware of the sanitary landfill operation. The approximately six-acre landfill site, located 800 feet from Millbury Road and behind a knoll on a portion of the property away from your residence, was used as the town's solid waste landfill from approximately 1978 to December of 1985.
4. During that period and subsequent to the closing of the landfill operation, the Adams Corporation and Grafton Board of Health had numerous disagreements over the use of the landfill site and the fees charged to the Town of Grafton. After terminating the use of the Millbury Street landfill, the town began considering what measures would be necessary to close out the landfill according to DEQE guidelines and restore the site to its original condition. Discussion to this effect began in the spring of 1986 between the Town Engineer, the Board of Health and the Board of Selectmen.
5. In July of 1986, as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, and upon the suggestion of other selectmen, you approached a representative of the Adams Corporation to negotiate for the eventual Town of Grafton's purchase of the landfill site. The former chairman had attempted to accomplish the same purchase before leaving the Board. After several exchanges of proposals and counterproposals and further negotiations with another selectman, the Adams Corporation through its representative requested the matter be placed on the Board of Selectmen agenda.
6. At a Board of Selectmen meeting on September 16,1986, you participated in a lengthy exchange with the Adams Corporation attorney regarding the acquisition of the landfill site. Although no vote was taken on the matter, you also played a primary role in the deliberations at that meeting. You commented on the same issue at a subsequent selectmen meeting on October 14,1986.
II. The Conflict Law
Section 19 of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such in a matter in which he has a financial interest. This section is intended to ensure that a public official is acting in the best interest of a municipality and not pursuing his own self interest. This section thus prohibits you, as a Grafton Board of Selectman member, from participating in a matter in which you have a financial interest. The facts as set forth above, if proven, would indicate a violation of s.19 for the reasons discussed below.
That you are a municipal employee and that you participated in a particular matter (Grafton's proposed purchase of the landfill site) are indisputable. The nature of your financial interest in that particular matter requires further discussion.
In EC-COI-84-96, the Commission discussed the potential financial interest of abutting property owners and other parties in interest. Without exception, abutting property owners are presumed to have a financial interest in matters affecting the value of the abutting property. As an abutting owner you have, and had, a financial interest in the disposition of the Millbury Street landfill site. Whether purchased by the Town of Grafton, or retained by the Adams Corporation, the landfill site affects the value of your property. It is irrelevant whether the particular matter beneficially or adversely affects your financial interest.
As long as there is some effect, s.19 prohibits your participation.
Thus, it appears that you as a Grafton Board of Selectman member participated in the matter of the proposed town's purchase of the landfill site and that you had a financial interest in that purchase. Therefore the Commission concludes that you appear to have violated s.19 of c. 268A, the conflict of interest law. The Commission also recognizes, however, that there are mitigating circumstances associated with this violation and because of this, the Commission has decided that this case does not warrant the initiation of a formal adjudicatory proceeding. The evidence in this matter tends to indicate that you placed the Town of Grafton's interest before your own when considering issues involving the landfill site. Thus you supported the continued operation of the site as a municipal landfill, even though the value of your own property would presumably increase if the landfill were closed and restored. You made your position public at a Board of Health Public Hearing in August of 1984 and on other occasions. Your persistent support of the continued operation of the landfill site with town ownership may thus have been contrary to your own financial interest. Because it does not appear that you stood to gain financially by your participation in this matter, the Commission has elected to issue this Public Enforcement Letter instead of pursuing adjudicatory proceedings.
In the future you must exercise caution whenever a matter is brought before the Grafton Board of Selectmen which deals with a property abutting your own, or whenever you have any financial interest in the outcome, no matter how small or speculative. If you are at all uncertain about the applicability of the conflict of interest law, the Commission encourages you to contact our Legal Division for an opinion.
Based on its review of this matter, the Commission has determined that the sending of this letter should be sufficient to ensure your understanding of, and your future compliance with, the conflict of interest law. This matter will be closed once we have received acknowledgement of your receipt of this letter.
If you have any questions, please contact me at (617)727-0060.